Android "L" preview – a prettier and smoother version of Google’s mobile OS
By Chris Wood
June 25, 2014
Google has released details on the next big installment of its mobile platform, known (at least for now) as Android L. The OS update, which will initially be available only to developers, will bring a range of improvements including better battery performance, an all new UI design language and full support for 64-bit processors.
One of the biggest changes coming to Android in this latest version is its all new look – something the company is calling Material Design. The new system-wide redesign takes inspiration from paper and ink, and is built on the idea of pixels having depth as well as color. This means that developers will be able to specify the depth of any window or individual part of the UI in their app, giving them edges and shadows, as well as streamlining window transitions with some glossy new effects.
The redesign will add a range of new animated touch effects, such as a ripple when the user hits a virtual key, with everything running at a steady 60 frames per second. The design language will also be extended to the mobile web apps on the Chrome browser.
One of our favorite changes to the platform is also one of the smallest, with Chrome tabs now appearing under the recent applications tab. Though only a minor addition, the ability to quickly switch between apps and specific Chrome tabs should significantly improve multitasking.
Interestingly, Google has stated that the update isn't just for smartphones and tablets, but will extend to desktop and beyond. What this likely means in practice is that the company will apply the update to the Chrome browser and online Google services such as Docs, Music etc. when the update eventually goes live.
There will be some changes to the way that notifications work in the new version of the OS. Users will be able to view and reply to emails, texts and other alerts by double tapping the notification on the lock screen, and a new heads-up alert has been added that overlays notifications such as an incoming call on top of what the user is doing, allowing the user to engage with it, or simply ignore it and continue what they’re doing.
In addition to full 64-bit CPU support, the new update will also allow for improved graphics performance on Android devices, including better lighting effects and tessellation, something that the company claims will lead to “PC gaming graphics in your pocket.” Google is also promising improvements to battery life with the update, including improved visualization of battery usage and a Battery Saver mode, similar to that seen on recent HTC and Samsung smartphones.
One last big change with Android L comes in the form of personal unlocking. The new feature will improve smartphone and tablet unlocking by being contextually aware of the user. For example, if the device in question detects that the user is wearing an Android Wear smartwatch registered to the same user account, it will unlock without asking for a password. If it can’t be sure that the user is the owner of the device, then it will ask for the usual password, pattern unlock or pin number set up by the user.
Google has only provided a glimpse at Android L so far, and it could still take on a dessert name ("lollipop?") before all is said and done. But it's already looking like a major upgrade for the platform, with a clean, compelling new design language. The Android L Developers SDK is available for download today, but there’s no news on when the consumer version will hit.
Updated 6/25 to correct frames per second (it was incorrectly listed as 64 fps)